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School official urges committee to 'think big'

Proposed community center will need to be huge

Some of the details regarding potential uses and potential funding for a multimillion dollar county community center proposed in Platte City are starting to take shape.

A task force composed of a few private citizens as well as representatives of several agencies involved in the project met Wednesday night in Platte City. It was primarily a feeling-out session, with committee members speaking the positions of their agencies, though there were several interesting developments come to light.

"Everything is still in the discussion stages, but the meeting was very positive and very upbeat. I want to emphasize our school district has not yet made a commitment," Dr. Mark Harpst, Platte County R-3 School District superintendent, said Thursday.

The proposal is identified as a project that would involve multiple entities, including Platte County and the Platte County R-3 School District. The YMCA has also stepped forward to indicate an interest in operating the facility, which will be a multipurpose complex proposed to be built on 10 acres of land east of the Northland Career Center facing Hwy. 92 in Platte City.

Among the interesting developments to come out of the first task force meeting:

•The county—which has been asked for a $9 million investment for the project—would prefer to begin with a $7 million investment of funds, with that money coming from the county's sales tax for parks and recreation. County officials have mentioned beginning with approximately $7 million as an up-front investment in the center and then adding around $2 million toward later phases.

•Platte County R-3 has indicated it will contribute the land on which the center would be built. The school has had appraisals done on the property that list the value at anywhere from $1.4 million to $2.4 million. School officials have indicated they would consider the contribution of property to be worth $2 million.

•Platte County R-3 officials have discussed possibly adding another $2 million to the project by floating a no-tax increase bond issue.

•This complex will be huge, and all indications are it will have to be in order to keep R-3 school officials happy. The school wants a facility large enough to house an aquatic center, youth basketball, youth wrestling, indoor soccer fields, jogging and walking areas, and weight training facilities, among other things.

Dr. Harpst, the R-3 superintendent, said he envisions the facility eventually being able to host the school's high school basketball games and hosting basketball tournaments.

Eventually, some outdoor tennis courts would be nice as well, Harpst indicated.

•Early numbers being thrown around have stated the facility may start out at being 35,000 to 40,000 square feet. Quietly, some school district officials are saying that's not nearly large enough to house all the needs school officials see the facility fulfilling. The planning committee may have to think larger to avoid losing the school's potential participation in the proposed project.

•Estimated annual operating costs for a 35,000 to 40,000 sq. ft. facility are listed at $750,000. Though the YMCA has expressed interest in operating the facility, details over how all of the annual operating costs will be funded are still being discussed. Betty Knight, presiding Platte County Commissioner, said one option is that the county will enter into an operating contract with the YMCA.

"If we build it through county sales tax money, then we would be responsible for maintenance," Knight said.

•The next step in the planning stage will be a needs assessment survey to be done by the county and the YMCA. Residents of the area will be surveyed on their opinion of the recreational needs and what things they might like to see included in the community center complex.

The survey process is expected to take around 90 days.

Harpst remains encouraged and excited about the potential project.

"Our school board has identified several amenities we'd like to see included, such as an aquatic center, indoor soccer, youth basketball, youth wrestling, and all of our high school activities," he said.

He said the school would need priority usage of the facility during its sports seasons.

"We see it as a school priority situation, with the community getting a lot of use out of the facility also," Harpst added.

"I'm encouraging everyone to think big. We need to plan for the growth of our community over the next 10 years."

Harpst said fulfilling a variety of needs will be the key from the school's point of view.

"The key thing is to make it a multi-purpose facility to accommodate things like youth soccer and youth wrestling. There's tremendous interest in those things and we don't have any place to put them," he explained.

"Our buildings are constantly full of activities. We need to take some of that pressure off. We are wearing our facilities out," he remarked.

He also expressed the position that a master plan for the facility needs to be developed, so the complex can grow with future stages of construction.

Though the high school band and some intramural teams currently practice in the space where the complex is proposed to be built, Harpst doesn't see that as a problem.

"We've got 10 acres there. It may only take 3-4 acres for the project, which would leave room for green space and practice fields," he said.

As for a time frame on how fast things might move forward, Harpst said in his opinion it will be at least a year before ground could be broken.

"That would be if things go perfectly," he said.

If the school does propose a bond issue to go toward the project, the next available date for an election would be April. If it doesn't happen in April, the school district would likely wait until the next municipal election after that, which would be next November.

In even numbered years, like the upcoming 2002, school district bond issues only require a 57% voter approval for passage at municipal elections.

A special election during 2002 held separately from the April or November municipal election would require an approval of 67% of voters.

Harpst sees this as a major opportunity for the school and the community.

"We currently have 1,700 kids on this campus. Next year there will be 1,825. With our growth, there soon will be 2,000 kids right here on this (Hwy. 92 in Platte City) campus.

"As our high school gets bigger and bigger, we will need to build a middle school somewhere and the current middle school can become (a part of) the high school," the superintendent explained.

"I see this as a one-time opportunity to get an aquatic center and a fieldhouse. We're going to make sure our investment will provide a lot for our students," he added.

Knight said she sees the YMCA's experience as being a key to the center's success.

"Their expertise in running it is the most important thing," she said, adding that the YMCA operates similar centers in Bonner Springs and in Olathe.

She said the results of the needs assessment survey will determine much of the future planning. It is hoped the survey, which will be done by telephone, will be completed by January.

"It will all come from that assessment, what do the people want to do first. One of the things we've heard is that people want an aquatic center. That's a very expensive item, but if that's what they want then that's something that needs to be included," Knight stated.

Members of the task force—officially known as the Central Platte County Community Center Steering Committee—include Harpst, school board members Carey Rolofson and Lee Ann Fadler; county park board members Margie Maasen and Sean Eisler; Jack Kopetz of Platte Senior Services; Ron Baker of North Platte R-1 School District; Dick Stephens and Mark Comfort of Platte City; Joyce Yates Priddy from the City of Weston, and Rhonda Stamper, citizen representative who resides in the R-3 district.

Presiding Platte County Commissioner Betty Knight and Second District County Commissioner Steve Wegner both attended the meeting, as well as Brian Nowotny, the county's parks and recreation director.